How life feels after domestic violence

I hear from a lot of women, and some men too, desperate to learn if it is possible to find peace and happiness after domestic violence. This is what I want them to know.

paper plane

It has been over two years since I left my violent ex.

Leaving him, it turns out, was the easiest part. First came the excruciating misery of loving a man who hated women in general and me in particular.

I was the Houdini of cognitive dissonance as I tried to square his vehement assertions that he loved me more than life, even as he systematically sought to destroy mine.

That was before I learned that men (and women) who abuse are incapable of love. I saw his terrifying jealousy and dogged drug and gambling addiction as signs of a damaged soul. I saw it as my job to fix him.

I was utterly invested in getting our relationship back to how it was before domestic violence scarred and scared me.

My heart and my mind was as dull and heavy as a worn key, going through the motions but no longer hopeful that life and happiness were on the other side of the locked door.

einstein meme

When I finally, inevitably, reached my boiling point, it came not as an epiphany but as a slow onset realisation I could no longer ignore if I wanted my son to have a peaceful and healthy childhood. It was time for me to act on a promise I made my partner when our child was just one day old.

“If your actions take us to the point in which I have to choose between the baby and you,” I told him from my maternity ward hospital bed, just minutes after the police officer had left.

“It’s not even a choice for me. My son will always come first.”

He’d dialled 999 in paranoid fear, thinking people had come to the hospital to attack him. At that moment, I saw what the domestic violence that began with my pregnancy really meant in terms of permanent consequences that a tear-drenched apology from him could not avert.

The act of leaving, which I successfully carried out nearly a year later, was easier than its aftermath. I loved him even when I left him. I loved him even as he stalked me. I loved him even when he looked me in the eyes and told me he’d kidnap our child and murder my parents. I loved him when I gave evidence in court against him.

Love is in the air stencil of a woman hugging a bomb

Photo by yourbartender

Months later, after repeatedly being arrested and remanded and bailed only to harass me again, I cried when I learned he had finally been found guilty. It wasn’t entirely relief: it was also the finality of the judgement, which included a restraining order against him ever contacting me again.

I worried how he was coping without me, especially when the police told me the circumstances of their last arrest – they found him only when called to the scene of a brawl.

I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I plastered a smile on my face so few would guess at what I didn’t want to tell them, and the last thing they’d want to hear: that I was hurting.

I thought that the pain would never stop and couldn’t bear to have people judge me. I was supposed to be happy to be free, right? What was wrong with me that I couldn’t be happy?

I know now that recovery from domestic violence is a difficult journey. Survivors have to work every day at healing and resisting the trauma bond.

Our emotions are not a switch that can be flicked off and reset at will. And we must not beat ourselves up if we’re not motoring down that road to happiness as fast as we’d wish.

Two years later, I can honestly tell you this: I still hate the sound of a ringing telephone, loud noises, and angry voices. I still hurt sometimes. I still miss him, sometimes. But other times, whole days can go by without a painful memory popping into my head. I go weeks without nightmares or worse, the terrible sweet dreams of our happier moments.

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Original image by THOR

I go out without that sick anxious feeling that I’ll need to ring him a dozen times. I can be at home without worrying about whether Jekyll or Hyde will walk through the door. I don’t have to deal with somebody’s erratic actions. I make decisions based on what’s right for my son, and for me – rather than my library of survival strategies. I’m not afraid. I am no longer in love with him.

I have zero regrets about closing the door on our relationship. I’m glad I did, and I’d make the same decision if I had my time over. I am proud of how far I’ve come. I have learned I’m stronger than I ever knew.

I’m even, dare I say it, happy. You can be too.

What advice would you offer to someone looking ahead to life after domestic violence? Does it get easier? How do you find yourself and get happy again? SHARE in the comments.

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25 responses to “How life feels after domestic violence

  1. Thank you. It took me decades more than you to leave yet it is as if you are telling my story. The trauma bond feels like it’ll never be healed for me and so you are giving me hope. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It took me 12 years to realize what was happening to me and then to finally leave. I pretty much stayed until he was done with me and started dating someone else. I’m enjoying your blog it is nice to read that I wasn’t/still not alone.

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    • Hi there. So sorry you went through the harrowing experience of domestic abuse. There are so many survivors yet we often feel alone with our experiences. I think that isolation is mostly because that’s the point the perpetrators got us to, as well as the (unwarranted) shame and stigma we can feel when we’re on the receiving end of abuse. So sharing our experiences really helps.

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      • I was married almost 30 years; I believed EVERYTHING he told me, to me, about me and my family. It took a lot of ‘baby steps’ one at a time, but with 2 woman friends, I finally DID get out, a divorce. Still, I get upset at holidays (he made them hell), LOUD angry male voices, profanity, scenes of violence, rape on tv and movies, and its been 16 years of being divorced. I still have dreams about him (bad ones, weird ones) and in this small town I live in, I may bump into him. I have NO contact with him; our 3 sons are estranged from me as well. I am FREE, I intend to stay this way the rest of my life. I am still re-gaining the ME I was (before years of abuse), I still can feel emotionally battered, bruised at times, but I AM FREE.

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  3. You will start to live after you leave. It is an unfolding of yourself and the most amazing time ever. NO CONTACT is the way to peace within. Once you choose yourself first, the Universe will jump in to assist you but only if you take action towards your dreams. It is work but feels like a journey of joy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beautifully and eloquently stated. And, I can’t agree enough with you regarding the importance of No Contact in the healing process. This was the one thing I did that I believe had the greatest impact in enabling me to get free and restart my life. Thank you for sharing.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for this article. I have to keep reminding myself that healing and feeling like me again will take time. I sometimes get frustrated that I don’t feel whole still and that it’s a long process. I thought that once I left I would “poof” automatically feel completely better. There was an initial sense of relief and elation, a sort of “high” that kind of dissipated over the months. There are so many things I can do again to be me yet, I’m finding it difficult to progress. Or rather, I’m finding it difficult to progress at a rate that which I feel I should be. This reminded me that there’s no rush– building oneself back up again, healing–it takes time. Slow and steady wins the race.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hear you, and 100% relate to your experience. In the early days I couldn’t see a way back to myself at all, but I cleared a pathway over time. Glad to hear you’re taking it at your own pace. Trying to push yourself harder and faster than your comfortable with certainly won’t help, and of course it is not a race but a process. Be kind to yourself.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi, just wanted to say thanks for the article. The healing process is a long one, I mean in terms of detaching from the abuser. Then when that is done, there’s still that anxiety to overcome. And I get so mad when people say stuff like “how can she still love him after all he’s done?”. What a woman loves is that illusion from the beginning, that glimpse of a better person she once saw. And most women who end up with abusers were abused in some way growing up in there family of origin, so they have no real support system. Or their mother tells them stuff like “well at least he’s a good provider, be grateful for that.” It is a complex ordeal until a woman gets out, then lives through the aftermath, deals with all the contradicting feelings, then slowly starts rebuilding a better life. Poignant and insightful article. Much love and healing to everyone who experienced abuse.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Iva

      Thank you for taking the time to share your experience. You are absolutely correct that when domestic violence kicks in, we try to focus on getting our partner back to the beautiful charade we fell in love with. We think if we change ourselves, or get him some help, this terrible abuse will stop. Society conditions women to place themselves in that ‘saving’ role. The situation doesn’t improve, because the violent / abusive person is who they actually are. We all need to know that abuse is a choice abusive people make. I’m glad you liked the article.

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  6. Very inspirational to read about your experience. Solidifies that life will continue to get “better” or balance out.
    No Contact has been a blessing for me as well. When (and I do) I feel reminiscent about the “good” times when my ex actually treated myself and children with moments of “love” my heart does feel conflicted. Then I remember the man he was the other 90% of time and I take off the rose colored glasses. It’s a process. Keeping my head in reality has helped me avoid reaching out to him.

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    • Hi there and thank you for commenting. I’m so glad that you’re using No Contact to keep strong. Leaving and healing from an abusive relationship is definitely a process which requires hard work. You’re making amazing progress!

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  7. I have left my abuser for the final time. I have no idea how to cope. I am all over the place and my emotions, once well hid are on show for everyone to see. I feel lost. I am happier than I have been in years but still so lost. I just want to be me again, me before the abuse. I hope one day I will be easier for me too.

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    • Daniellah. Huge kudos to you for making an amazing first step toward improving your life. Now you have to continue putting one foot in front of the other to make even more steps forward. It’s incredibly hard right now, but I want you to know it gets easier. You’re on the right track, just keep stepping forward. I know what you mean about wanting to get back to you – and you will. Not the you that never knew abuse, but the you that is strong, resilient and wise as a result of what you’re doing right now.

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  8. 3 months today on Mother’s Day I haven’t seen my abuser of 19 plus years. No contact! Yeah! Right, he stopped talking to us while he was in jail for DV but I went no contact 7 days ago. It’s bitter sweet I miss him so much today but it does get better everyday. I’m starting to forgive myself for staying and taking it so long. Hell I didn’t even know that some of it was abuse it was all I knew. I’m starting to feel like myself again and the smiles on my daughters faces make it worth wild. Our 1st feel of freedom was when we went to Wal-mart at 8:45pm and just walked around and stayed as long as we wanted. Smile your future so bright we all need shades.

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  9. I made the move away from my abusive husband August of last year. I got a job out of state and started the process of transitioning away from the abuse…. I needed to break the cycle. We had been married 14 years and I had filed for divorce the end of 2014. The divorce was on the table when I left but had not moved forward. I felt the tug of my heart over and over after leaving, but knew I made the right decision. 4 weeks after I left my husband committed suicide. I had to go back to handle our and his life and financial affairs. Unfortunately, his family and friends are all like him. I got sucked right back in to the chaos and drama once I stepped off of the plane. His close friends and family are all the same and his mother lived next door. It will be one year since his death in September. I am still trying to understand exactly what has happened to me and why I am unable to put my mind to rest. My heart at time aches even for all of those I have elected to go No Contact with. It’s hard to believe that everyone I trusted took advantage of the situation and of me. Any advise on best steps to move beyond where I am at the moment?

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  10. Thank you for the article, I tried to get away before, and I am trying again. I am so scared and so tired of the problems he creates for. I read these articles and want to get away. He is manipulative, and cruel; what if I can never be free, or he stops doing it to me, and does it to someone else. Why do I keep believing him when he makes promises?

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  11. Wow this site is amazing
    Thank you so much x
    I left my abuser 8 years ago
    We have a 15 year old together who wants nothing to do with him
    I’ve never been able to have another relationship because I’ve always feared he’d seriously hurt them
    He has recently move to the top of my road with his pregnant fiancé
    They turn up randomly at places we go to on bonfire night and Christmas etc
    Shortly after moving nearby he wrote his name on my car and tried to break into the flats where we live.
    It’s hurting so much he’s trying to flaunt his new “happy” life. I can’t bare him being so near but I have to maintain zero contact, give him an inch he’ll take my soul.
    I feel so mixed.. scared, sad, jealous, hate.. Love?
    I worry this will never end until he sees me broken.
    All I ever did was try, love and support him until I couldn’t cope anymore. Why does he hate me so much?
    He says people think I’m a great person but no one would if they knew the “real” me.
    He can’t see his actions were wrong and even though he is in a loving relationship Is still wanting to get to me. Is this because he still loves me? I think I must still love him if it hurts seeing him set up a family with someone else?
    I’m feeling defeated in the realisation that after all these years he’s still wanting to get at me.

    What can I do to not live in fear and finally have a relationship?
    This man has taken nearly 14 years of my life. Please help me not let him take anymore x

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    • Hi Emma. A HUGE well done to you for leaving your abusive partner. All signs would suggest that the way he lives his life – ie. choosing to live on the very same street as you – is designed to continue his abuse of you. Hard as it is to hear, the truth is that abuse is not about love – it’s about control, which he can’t relinquish. You’re not wrong: he probably does want to see you broken. Don’t confuse conten with love, as I did. It is natural that you feel hurt to see him set up with someone else. That’s his whole intention. You feel hurt probably because he’s deliberately showing to you the life you always hoped he would give you. But this is just a shallow (and cruel) tactic. Don’t kid yourself that his new partner is living in a bed of roses – he is quite probably as hideous to her as he was to you. The best thing you can do, if you’re able to do so, is to move elsewhere and make sure he can never find you there. You’re obviously an incredibly strong person – so please use that strength to make certain this man can never hurt you again. You’ve got me, and every other survivor, rooting for you here, so please do let us know how you get on X

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      • my ex (and his present wife) tried to connect with me, on Facebook a year or so ago. His was on “people you may know” list; after looking at a wad of photos of him/our sons/grandkids much too much; I blocked him. I deleted his present wife’s ‘friendship request’; I have nothing against her, personally; but I don’t trust her NOT to tell him of any Facebook relationship between her and I. So I don’t respond to her Facebook friending, either. I have had to avoid grandchild birthday parties, because if I’m invited, he usually is invited as well; and I have NO desire to see him put on the dog being the proud grandpa with a very generous checkbook/billfold in hand. Since our sons seldom invite me alone, I see very little of them or their children. Of course, they blame me for all the lack of relationships between they, their kids and me.

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